Shoptalk: Be An ‘Infomediary’

By: Tom Ratkovich

There are encouraging signs that newsmedia organizations are not only transitioning into new models, they are also starting to succeed. This success comes from engaging their customers in a more informed and relevant manner.
Leveraging data-driven marketing automation, newsmedia companies are reaching out to consumers with timely, targeted information, entertainment and offers via the preferred medium of the recipient. The ability to deliver relevancy in a multi-channel environment not only supports the growth and engagement of the audience, just as importantly it facilitates the profitable delivery of merchant advertising.
This idea is not new. In their book Net Worth, John Hagel and Marc Singer introduced the concept of an information intermediary, or “Infomediary,” more than a decade ago. Whether or not they’ve ever heard of Hagel and Singer or an Infomediary, savvy newsmedia organizations are migrating their models of content and communication towards that described in the book — an information intermediary providing credible, valuable and timely information between commercial enterprises and consumers through a channel most likely to generate response.
As increasing numbers of merchants and media fight over consumer mindshare in the online and offline marketplace, the consumer has become jaded and unsure of whom to trust. Although some might argue otherwise, newspaper brands typically maintain substantial credibility within their respective markets. Trust is a critical asset to the Infomediary. Consumers will share data with Infomediaries who they trust will deliver value, relevance, simplicity and security. In return, the Infomediary must deliver on this implied promise.
Newsmedia organizations are well suited to take on the role of the Infomediary. They have a wide range of consumer touch points, both online and offline. The data garnered from these interactions — including transactional behavior, intended purchases, channel preferences, etc. — represent the lifeblood of the Infomediary. The assimilation of this data and the communication of relevant content through multiple, integrated channels can be the unique domain of the progressive, dominant newsmedia enterprise.
Clearly, today’s forward-thinking newsmedia company has something valuable to sell to the merchant community: timely, knowledgeable, cost-effective access to consumers delivered in a multi-channel environment. Most newsmedia companies also have sufficient credibility with that community to make their pitch as the ideal Infomediary to deliver profitable customers.
There remains substantial untapped potential for newsmedia companies to nurture their roles as Infomediaries, and to further extend their audiences across print and digital platforms. These include niche publishing, blogs, user-generated social media sites, smartphone applications, and more. Most major publishers are aggressively moving into the social media space. It is rare, for instance, not to see blogs, podcasts, a Facebook link and/or a Twitter feed on a newsmedia Website. That said, the majority of organizations still have a long way to go to build a truly active community around their brand that can be leveraged as a platform for audience development and advertising revenue.
So where to begin? As noted earlier, most newsmedia companies have already begun — even if not officially in pursuit of the Infomediary objective.
An appropriate place to start is with an inventory of relevant assets — data, technology, skills and leadership. Clearly, there is a technical infrastructure required to facilitate the acquisition and analysis of data, the planning and management of campaigns, and the execution of communications across online (Web, mobile, e-mail, social media, etc.) and offline (newspaper, direct mail, niche pubs, etc.) platforms. Gaps in data, tools and skill sets must be assessed and mitigated. But more importantly, the enterprise must share a commitment to a vision — a vision in which the newsmedia company is the Infomediary of choice for consumers seeking security, knowledge and relevance, as well as merchants seeking to maximize return on advertising investments through targeted, multi-channel communications.
Certainly, the manner in which the Infomediary sells and supports its solutions is evolutionary relative to the manner in which the traditional newspaper has sold product. Sales representatives must evolve into solutions consultants that can assist their customers in defining the most efficient and effective methodologies for growing their respective businesses. This requires the development of skill sets that few such representatives possess today.
If that sounds like a tall order, well, it is. However, it represents a sensible way forward. The traditional newspaper advertising pie has gotten smaller. Anyone that denies that fact and believes all will be well when the recession is over is in for a nasty surprise. So it’s time to aggressively start seeking bigger shares of other people’s pies.
It doesn’t matter if those pies include print, direct mail, e-mail, mobile, or whatever. What matters is that the newsmedia enterprise leverages the tremendous assets it controls — data, brand, distribution, merchant relationships and more — to nurture multiplatform solutions that meet the needs of the consumer and merchant marketplaces for relevance and value. Forget survival. For smart companies, that’s a given. Start thinking prosperity and dominance. That is the opportunity at hand.

Tom Ratkovich is the president of smartFOCUS ASTECH, a provider of data-driven, revenue-focused marketing automation solutions to the newsmedia industry.

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